Some losses were easier to prepare for than others for the West Fargo wrestling team entering the 2018-19 season.

The Packers were already set to graduate several key pieces from a team that won the Eastern Dakota Conference championship a season ago. Most notable among them was Jared Franek, who capped his high school career with a state championship at 160 pounds.

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But since the end of last season, Head Coach Ben Berogan's roster has been dealt two significant and unexpected blows that leave him without the services of two conference champions.

After sustaining a lower-body injury during football season, Joel McIntosh will not return to defend his 170-pound title this winter. Reigning 220-pound champion Riley Kringle, who was ranked second in the class in the first preseason state poll, also won't be back this season, electing to sit out for personal reasons.

Not having such high-profile competitors at his disposal, Berogan admits he and his staff have been left scrambling a bit during the preseason.

"Obviously that changes a lot of things in the lineup," he said. "You can't really overcome it. When you have (guys) at that level, your backup isn't going to be the same.

"At the same time, you've just got to move on and do your best. That's all you can do."

Despite unrest at some weight classes, expectations remain high for the Packers, who are once again projected to win the EDC.

Though Berogan expects "a dog fight" from the likes of Valley City and Fargo Davies atop the conference, he believes his roster is still talented enough to justify the high ranking.

The biggest building block at the third-year coach's disposal is in Cade Pederson, the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the 182-pound weight class. Pederson, who won a state title at 160 in 2017, won the EDC and placed third at state in 182 last year.

Berogan is also excited to see the further development of twin eighth graders Kaleb and Tyler Porter. Kaleb enters the year ranked second at 113, while Tyler comes in at No. 5 in 106.

West Fargo also has the fifth-ranked wrestler at 160 (Lanier Karpeh) and 195 (Houston Visto).

And though the rankings provide a gauge of how people in the state see the Packers, wrestlers themselves say they hold little significance.

"Rankings aren't a huge deal for us," Pederson said. "We've slipped a few times when we should have won and won when we weren't supposed to. We're young. Learn and get better is pretty much our mentality right now."

Berogan expects his team to follow that mentality during the season while once again making a serious push for a conference title.

"We're looking good," he said. "I would say we're in the top three (of the EDC). That's all I can say definitively, but I still expect us to compete and do our best."

The Packers open the varsity season this weekend in a two-day tournament at Mandan on Friday and Saturday.